I've never published a personal recipes. I'm a life and journey blogger. I'm not a food blogger (although I imagine they have a lot of fun). Today I'm going to deviate a little. I'm going to share about baking with some journey and life mixed in. Even though I don't have a test kitchen I do LOVE to bake and I especially love to eat! I bake all the time and I'm always on the lookout for winning recipes to add to my stash.
Much like every other part of me, my baking style and my taste has evolved over the years. These days I'm most fond of hardier treats like oaty, seedy cookies with chocolate chips (everything is better with chocolate) and dense, heavy muffins (but NO oily business). I'm obsessed with the sorts of baked goods you'd likely only find in one of those independent, hole-in-the-wall sorts of coffee houses; brimming with character and charm, casually serving bold, rich coffee, creamy tasty lattes and loads of over-sized artisan-looking baked goodies. I'm actually so in love that I've gotten into the habit of tweaking (overhauling) recipes; trading out ingredients and adjusting the proportions, hoping to stumble across the perfect texture, flavor and consistency.
Some have wondered if I've always been the brown-haired, baking Betty of today, and the short answer is...ummm, NO! My husband would be the first to stand and solemnly swear on each of our children's lives that my sad confession is truth. When we first got married I was a TERRIBLE cook...like really REALLY bad. I didn't even know that water needed to come to boil before pasta should be added. I basically knew nothing and I hated that I knew nothing. All those years ago I was a young, prideful know-it-all. Being a dumpy cook killed me. I had conquered only ONE recipe, my childhood favorite: zucchini bread. All others secretly terrified me. As God/fate would have it, I married a former chef who was more than happy to teach me what he knew (my pride minded), but Adam was gracious and patient. So, now here I am, 11+ years later and a crazy baking fool.
Today started out like any other day: I woke up and rushed around like a chicken with her head chopped off. I was brewing coffee, packing lunches, feeding reasonable(ish) older kids while force feeding my ravenous 2 year old who doesn't acknowledge the ache of hunger until she's losing her mind; writhing and flopping on the floor (just another morning in Smith paradise). Then I saw a text from Adam. He'd left his wallet at home and was hoping it was in the kitchen where he'd left it. I quickly glanced around and noticed the bowl of browning, overripe bananas, and I did what any other strange and mildly unstable person might...I offered to deliver muffins.
I admit it, I boarded that muffin train a touch prematurely and as my morning really got rolling, I realized I was way in over my head. I (100%) seriously began praying HARD that I wouldn't have to show up with only a wallet and no muffins. I imagined Adam prepping his office team with tall tails of my baking abilities. I also prayed that if by some miracle, I should manage to pull something together, that it would be amazing. SO MUCH PRESSURE...and I did it all to myself!
I don't know how (only God knows), but in my frenzied guessing and nervous mixing somehow glorious muffins were born! They were glor-i-ous, Thank you God! The kids loved the muffins, the husband loved the muffins, but most importantly (in this instance) the coworkers LOVED the muffins. Maybe they were all just fibbing to me to spare my feelings, but honestly I thought the muffins were pretty wonderful too. So I wanted to share my miracle muffin recipe. Enjoy!!
3 cups of organic, unbleached white flour (any white flour will do)
3/4 cups white sugar
3/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cups buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk on hand, a homemade buttermilk substitute is REALLY easy to make: add a few tablespoons of white vinegar to 3/4 cups of milk and let it sit for about 5-10 mins. The mixture with thicken and curdle- don't worry, it's supposed to)
1/2 cup warmed (liquid) coconut oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
raw sugar for sprinkling (granulated white sugar will work)
1. Preheat the oven to 375
2. Find two bowls; one for dry ingredients and one for wet.
3. Peel and mash 2 bananas in a bowl. Add the buttermilk, eggs, liquid coconut oil (microwave the coconut oil till it's no longer solid, maybe 20 or 30 seconds) and vanilla extract and mix together
4. Combine all dry ingredients (flour, white sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt) and mix well.
5. Gradually pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. The trick to these muffins is to mix as LITTLE as possible! Seriously, turn off your mixer early, even before you're 100% confident that all the dry bits are fulling incorporated. Use a rubber spatula to gently lift any remaining dry bits from the bottom of the bowl and give it just a couple stirs.
6. The batter will seem pretty thick. Evenly distribute the muffin batter between 12 paper lined muffin cups. The muffin cups should be filled nearly to the top.
7. Sprinkle raw sugar over the top of each muffin (maybe about a teaspoon full per muffin). The bigger the sugar granules, the better!
8. Bake for 20-27 mins, depending on your oven. Remove the lovely muffins from the oven with the tops are golden and the a tooth pick inserted into the center of the largest muffin comes out clean (a few little crumbs are OK)
I’ve had this song filling my mind all morning. It’s been nearly bursting out of me; practically spilling from my lips. It’s like one of those infectious, inspiring ballads that make me long for an empty car and an open road (so I can passionately belt out the words, loud and clear). In my car, I normally have an entourage (my kids), and in those moments, just as my heart begins to burst with song and my words start to form, I hear, “mom, mom, mom!”, and the song takes off without me; my near mountaintop moment quickly leveled.
This morning I was with some special lady friends, attending my weekly mamas group (which I love and rarely miss), and just behind all of my words, almost mixed in…this song accompanied me. In the couple of hours that I was there, I considered that any one of those sweet ladies could have leaned in close enough to listen in on my internal soundtrack, and yet no one commented. No one even noticed. Though no one else heard the music, I did. I felt it too!
As soon as those opening notes start playing, I see myself spinning wildly, uninhibited and free in a field, similar to that amazingly beautiful grassy expanse in the opening scene of “The Sound of Music” (just a little less hilly). My arms are wide open, my face lifted. I’m nearly shouting the words because I own each one of them. They say EVERYTHING; exactly what I’d say…well actually, being me, I might add a little.
“If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn't let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn't mine
If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him
If I told you my story
You would hear victory over the enemy
And if I told you my story
You would hear freedom that was won for me
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life overcome the grave”
These words…they wash away all the discouragement, frustration, emptiness and purposelessness that I’ve been carrying for months. I can see myself standing in the middle of that huge open field, arms lifted high, burdens outstretched and they’re rising right off of me.
Sometimes it seems so easy for me to get dragged down by the day to day junk; the daily grind of my life. Motherhood can leave me feeling isolated within the walls of my home, captive to my kids and my constant role as teacher. There are so many amazing, beautiful moments that I’m able to experience as a stay at home mom, but they’re harder to see when my personal dreams begin to look more like impossibilities. Since moving to the northwest last year, my life has lacked this one brilliant facet: the ministry component. For me that used to mean being part of a women’s Bible study leadership team.
That piece of my life brought energy to rest of it. It made me feel alive. It was never just a job, an assignment or a break from my routine, but a spiritually creative outlet that constantly stretched me and left me in awe of God and his immense love for me and all of human kind. That God would choose to partner with me…the reality was beyond amazing. There were times when I could hear him whisper his unrelenting love for the person sitting next to me. I was pouring myself out but leaving more full than I’d come. I REALLY miss that! I guess I still do a bit of non-organized, unofficial ministry, but I feel like a community-less lone ranger.
But when I hear this song, I feel alive again knowing that my God’s name is written on every part of my life. Even the parts of my life that I don’t speak of often; the one’s I used to feel ashamed by, they’re clothed in mercy and grace. They’re part of my story and each turn has led me right back to Him. Lone ranger or not, that voice I used to hear so clearly is still speaking to me; I just having to lean in closer to hear it.
Families usually begin with a sweet and captivating love story that somewhere along the way grows to include extra people...really short people...kids. From that moment on, life gets complicated and legs get hairy (as shaving falls by the wayside). Kids make life crazy, but somehow it's not just the kids who turn life on its head...parents are crazy makers too! There's something about parenthood that turns all us adults into insane circus jugglers.
The crazy-making usually starts with the arrival of an amazingly precious baby, who brings along his/her little friend, "sleep deprivation". Getting less than 4 hours of sleep, night after night, can unravel even the hardiest of night owls. Then as morning breaks, we parents attempt the impossible: we drag our pathetic, lifeless bodies out of bed and pretend to be alert and friendly.
Then baby grows and maybe more babies come (or they don’t) but very loosely, in the words of Spiderman: with age comes great responsibility. Which really means: as the baby ages, the parent's responsibility grows A LOT. There are school schedules, sports schedules, homework assignments, doctor’s appointments, youth group meetings, play dates, scouts…and that’s just the scheduling stuff. That list doesn't even include the emotional or spiritual development of the child or the parent finding time to read a fun little book at bedtime. And then there's still the task of earning a living and running a household. We convince ourselves (and the family) that all the scheduling busyness is super FUN and important for college...and other nondescript stuff and someday they’ll thank us for all their experiences. Right??? But in reality, all this unnatural bending and contorting, trying to fit it all in, juggling...it feels a bit like punishment. Life is bonkers!!
In spite of all the insanity, all of us parents are parents on purpose. Maybe "on purpose" is the wrong description for how it all started, but it ended up on purpose. Some of us even started out convinced that we'd NEVER be parents, because as a spectator, it looked CRAZY (because it is!). But then that little, tiny body...those fingers and that itty bitty nose and those lips. Suddenly captivated by that little person, you're heart swelled and you felt IT...that overwhelming, indescribable "parent love". Right then and there, in that profoundly supernatural moment, the choice was a firm, "YES".
Parenting changes a person forever! I’m positive that it’s reshaped and possibly corrupted my hearing. I know this because EVERY time I switch on my blow dryer, I swear I can hear the shrill screams and cries of my children. “Ahhhhhhh….Mommmmmm….” As hair flies everywhere and air whooshes around my ears, I’m convinced that what I hear beneath the roar of the dryer is their desperate need for me. I fear that they’re either mortally wounded or maybe they just really want a snack…and it’s brought them to tears, screams and puppy-ish yelps. Either way, they urgently need me! Each time, when I’m sure that some little (or not so little) voice is calling, I quickly switch off the dryer and listen…but all I hear is silence. OK (that was a huge exaggeration) maybe not silence, but definitely not desperation or need. There’s no crying, calling, freakish screeching. I’ve come to accept that all this grotesque howling is in my mom head and ears. It’s a mom thing…one of the side effects of parenthood.
Having children is difficult, amazing, terrifying, beautiful and sometimes horrible all at the same time. All us parents would likely agree that it'd be nice to be able to take a little vaca from parenting for a day or so...maybe disappear to a deserted island where there'd be freedom to pee and poo in peace. No little body there to burst in on us while our pants are down around our ankles, and maybe theirs are too. It'd also be nice to maybe think a complete thought without hearing, "mom, mom, mom, mom, mom...MOMMMMM!"
Yes, of course there’s a lot of joy and love, but what most parents don’t say is that there’s also a good amount of downers that comes with the territory. They pops up from time to time. Sometimes they linger a bit. And oddly, even after the most terrible of days; where your toddlers (or 5 year old) lays flat on the floor, publicly unraveled in the middle of Target (for NO reason), it's somehow possible for a parent to gaze upon that sleeping crazy one (a mere hour later), and only see an angel. And this is the beauty of parenthood.
I’ve always kind of resented New Year’s. It wasn’t ever the start of another year or the passing of the last that bothered me. It wasn’t the staying up late to watch the ball drop or running outside at the stroke of midnight to obnoxiously bang pots and pans together in the streets. And it definitely was NOT the kissing someone (namely Adam Smith) that ever irritated me. But that pesky oversized New Year’s resolution; the one that I absurdly felt compelled to make year after year. It annually soured a chunk of my New Year’s elation.
It’s sorta awkward that it wasn’t until I was quite grown (beyond high school), that I came to understand that New Year’s resolutions aren’t requirements that accompany the changing of a year. I’m not sure why I didn’t know that I could grant myself permission NOT to make a resolution. I don’t remember my parents being big resolution people. They didn’t boast extravagant goals of betterment for themselves or the family and encourage me and my sister to fall in step. I imagine it was all the seasonal commercials and maybe my peers that conditioned me to feel required to resolve to do something…anything different or better, come New Year’s.
When I finally embraced the thought that resolutions are entirely arbitrary, subjective things that we individually select and willingly burden ourselves with, I immediately felt freed from resolution making. Only then was I able to truly have a happy New Year’s. Even as I write this I’m realizing that it wasn’t really the striving to improve that I struggled with. Improving, growing and gaining fresh vision is absolutely essential to healthy living. That proverb that says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…”(Proverbs 29:18), has always resonated with me.
You see...the thing about most resolutions is that they usually strive to be life altering, course adjusting, momentous pledges that are built upon the premise that a certain portion of life (up till now), has been an utter failure. Resolutions are often birthed in negativity and at times include a bit of self loathing. We look at ourselves (usually in the mirror) and say, “I don’t like this thing and that!” So, we agree with the hateful voice that wishes to rip us to shreds and punish ourselves in the form of a harsh and extreme New Year’s resolution. And then when we fail to meet our own ridiculous expectations, we’re left to pick up the sad pieces of ourselves. Then, once again, we cozy up to last year's addiction and maybe purchase a Groupon for therapy sessions.
I’ll be the first to admit that my assessment of New Year’s resolutions is pessimistic and a bit grim. Even through the negativity, I do acknowledge the possibility that an extremely mentally stable and emotionally healthy person might be capable of making a balanced and meaningful resolution that doesn’t begin with self hatred and end with failure and depression. It’s just that in past years, that person was never me.
The other day, this whole business of pledges was the subject of a treadmill chat with a girlfriend who also swears against New Year’s resolutions. This little conversation brought me close to a resolution of sorts (we’ll just call it a healthy goal). This friend mentioned that she was aiming to be more positive in 2016. She wasn’t going to waste her worries on ridiculous things like those few wretched pounds or other menial irritations that life will surly bring, but instead she was going to make an intention to focus on the things and the people that she’s thankful for each day. She wanted to maintain gratitude and an understanding that tomorrow is promised to no one.
Of course I immediately responded by declaring that I was just about to say the same exact (breathtakingly beautiful) thing! In reality, I REALLY wish I’d thought to say something that amazing and meaningful instead of sharing my New Year's resolution grumpiness. This friend really inspired me! Our little talk made me want to work on living each day with gratitude and humility. I want to appreciate each moment with the ones I love (even the crazy, I want to pull my hair out, moments). I'm going to pledge not to punish myself if I have a rough, negative day. Instead I'll start again fresh the next day. Here goes nothing...
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.